March 1st, 2022

NASA Rover Spots Unreal Mars ‘Flower’ Formation

These tiny mineral formations give us a close-up look at the details of the surface of Mars as seen by NASA’s Curiosity rover. NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Hello, beautiful! NASA’s Curiosity rover snapped a gorgeous, delicate formation on Mars that looks like it could be a branching piece of ocean coral. It’s not coral, but it’s worth contemplating how we see familiar Earth objects in random shapes on Mars.

The miniscule Martian sculpture invites poetic comparisons. It resembles a water droplet captured at the moment of explosion against a surface, or the tendrils of an anemone in a tide pool.

February 16th, 2022

Otherworldly Mars image shows ripples sculpted by dust devils

Chaotic mounds, wind-sculpted ripples, and dust devil tracks: This image shows a fascinating and otherworldly landscape near Hooke Crater in Mars’ southern highlands. The image was taken by the CaSSIS camera onboard the ESA/Roscosmos ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) on February 1, 2021, and shows part of Argyre Planitia, centered at 46.2°S/318.3°E.

The European Space Agency (ESA) has released a hauntingly beautiful image of the surface of Mars, showing how the landscape there is sculpted by winds.

The image, taken from orbit by the ESA and Roscosmos ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), shows the Hooke Crater area in the southern highlands of Mars. The false colors are due to the filters used by TGO’s CaSSIS camera, which looks in the infrared wavelength to capture more details of the surface mineralogy.

February 2nd, 2022

Helicopters Flying at Mars May Glow at Dusk

This is an artist’s concept of a glow surrounding a drone at Mars during flight. The glow, exaggerated for visibility, might happen if the drone’s spinning rotor blades generate an electric field that causes electric currents to flow in the Martian air around the craft. Although the currents generated by the drone in the atmosphere are small, they might be large enough to cause the air around the blades and other parts of the craft to glow a blue-purple color.
Credits: NASA/Jay Friedlander

The whirling blades on drones flying above Mars may cause tiny electric currents to flow in the Martian atmosphere, according to a NASA study. These currents, if large enough, might cause the air surrounding the craft to glow. This process occurs naturally at much larger scales on Earth as a corona or electrical glow sometimes seen on aircraft and ships in electrical storms known as Saint Elmo’s Fire.

January 17th, 2022

Earth and Mars were formed from inner solar system material

The four terrestrial planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars. Credit: NASA/Lunar and Planetary Institute

Earth and Mars were formed from material that largely originated in the inner solar system; only a few percent of the building blocks of these two planets originated beyond Jupiter’s orbit. A group of researchers led by the University of Münster (Germany) report these findings today in the journal Science Advances. They present the most comprehensive comparison to date of the isotopic composition of Earth, Mars and pristine building material from the inner and outer solar system. Some of this material is today still found largely unaltered in meteorites. The results of the study have far-reaching consequences for our understanding of the process that formed the planets Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars. The theory postulating that the four rocky planets grew to their present size by accumulating millimeter-sized dust pebbles from the outer solar system is not tenable.

Approximately 4.6 billion years ago, in the early days of our solar system, a disk of dust and gasses orbited the young sun. Two theories describe how, in the course of millions of years, the inner rocky planets formed from this original building material. According to the older theory, the dust in the inner solar system agglomerated to ever larger chunks gradually reaching approximately the size of our moon. Collisions of these planetary embryos finally produced the inner planets Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars. A newer theory, however, prefers a different growth process: Millimeter-sized dust “pebbles” migrated from the outer solar system towards the sun. On their way, they were accreted onto the planetary embryos of the inner solar system, and step by step, enlarged them to their present size.

December 16th, 2021

ExoMars discovers hidden water in Mars’ Grand Canyon

Mars Express took snapshots of Candor Chasma, a valley in the northern part of Valles Marineris, as it was in orbit above the region on 6 July 2006.
ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum), CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

The ESA-Roscosmos ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter has spotted significant amounts of water at the heart of Mars’ dramatic canyon system, Valles Marineris.

The water, which is hidden beneath Mars’ surface, was found by the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO)’s FREND instrument, which is mapping the hydrogen – a measure of water content – in the uppermost metre of Mars’ soil.

While water is known to exist on Mars, most is found in the planet’s cold polar regions as ice. Water ice is not found exposed at the surface near the equator, as temperatures here are not cold enough for exposed water ice to be stable.

Missions including ESA’s Mars Express have hunted for near-surface water – as ice covering dust grains in the soil, or locked up in minerals – at lower latitudes of Mars, and found small amounts. However, such studies have only explored the very surface of the planet; deeper water stores could exist, covered by dust.

“With TGO we can look down to one metre below this dusty layer and see what’s really going on below Mars’ surface – and, crucially, locate water-rich ‘oases’ that couldn’t be detected with previous instruments,” says Igor Mitrofanov of the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow, Russia; lead author of the new study; and principal investigator of the FREND (Fine Resolution Epithermal Neutron Detector) neutron telescope.

“FREND revealed an area with an unusually large amount of hydrogen in the colossal Valles Marineris canyon system: assuming the hydrogen we see is bound into water molecules, as much as 40% of the near-surface material in this region appears to be water.”

The water-rich area is about the size of the Netherlands and overlaps with the deep valleys of Candor Chaos, part of the canyon system considered promising in our hunt for water on Mars.

December 15th, 2021

An Absolutely Bonkers Plan to Give Mars an Artificial Magnetosphere

A torus of charged particles could give Mars a magnetic field. Credit: Ruth Bamford

Terraforming Mars is one of the great dreams of humanity. Mars has a lot going for it. Its day is about the same length as Earth’s, it has plenty of frozen water just under its surface, and it likely could be given a reasonably breathable atmosphere in time. But one of the things it lacks is a strong magnetic field. So if we want to make Mars a second Earth, we’ll have to give it an artificial one.

The reason magnetic fields are so important is that they can shield a planet from solar wind and ionizing particles. Earth’s magnetic field prevents most high-energy charged particles from reaching the surface. Instead, they are deflected from Earth, keeping us safe. The magnetic field also helps prevent solar winds from stripping Earth’s atmosphere over time. Early Mars had a thick, water-rich atmosphere, but it was gradually depleted without the protection of a strong magnetic field.

As the study points out, if you want a good planetary magnetic field, what you really need is a strong flow of charged particles, either within the planet or around the planet. Since the former isn’t a great option for Mars, the team looks at the latter. It turns out you can create a ring of charged particles around Mars, thanks to its moon Phobos.

December 9th, 2021

ESA’s Mars Express unravels mystery of martian moon using ‘fake’ flybys

Infographic: ‘Fake’ flybys help solve Phobos mystery

By performing a series of real and ‘fake’ flybys, ESA’s Mars Express has revealed how Mars’ largest moon, Phobos, interacts with the solar wind of charged particles thrown out by the Sun – and spotted an elusive process that has only been seen at Phobos once before.

The solar wind streams out from our star, filling the Solar System with energetic particles. Earth’s Moon reflects these particles continuously, and the same ‘backscattering’ is expected at Mars’ moon Phobos given the similarities between the two (both are rocky, lack a magnetic field and atmosphere, and orbit terrestrial planets in the inner Solar System). However, ESA’s Mars Express has only seen this backscattering once (in 2008), despite coming close to Phobos many times.

Researchers now report the second successful detection of reflected solar wind particles at Phobos, spotted during a flyby of the moon in January 2016.

March 4th, 2020

NASA Reveals Bizarre Picture Of Mysterious Hole On Slopes Of Massive Martian Volcano

An image of the hole on the slopes of Pavonis Mons captured by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

NASA has posted an image of an unusual hole on the slopes of a giant Martian volcano known as Pavonis Mons.

In the photo,which was snapped in 2011 by the space agency’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), a circular crater can be seen with very steep walls. At the center of this crater is an opening measuring around 115 feet across, which is the entrance to an underground cavern.

Much of the material that once filled the crater has sunk through the hole forming a pile of debris inside the cavern, according to the University of Arizona’s Lunar & Planetary Laboratory (LPL.)

Using a digital model of the terrain around the hole, researchers have estimated that this debris pile is at least 203 feet tall. Furthermore, the top of the pile lies about 92 feet below the rim of the central opening, indicating that the underground cavity was once 295 feet deep, before the material from the crater fell inside.

February 28th, 2020

Look down into a pit on Mars. The caved-in roof of a lava tube could be a good place to explore on the Red Planet


Want to look inside a deep, dark pit on Mars? The scientists and engineers from the NASA’s HiRISE Camera on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have done just that.

From its orbit about 260 km (160 miles) above the surface, HiRISE can spot something as small as a dinner table, about a meter in size. But look inside a cave-like feature on the Red Planet? Could this super-camera actually resolve any details inside this pit?

Dark pits on Mars are fascinating – probably because they provide mysteries and possibilities. Could anything be inside? Or this could be a place where humans could set up a base since it would provide shelter from Mars’ harsh environment. If a future rover mission were to land nearby, this pit might be worth a look – from a safe distance around the rim.

February 24th, 2020

NASA’s InSight Lander Detects Hundreds of ‘Marsquakes,’ Proving Mars is Seismically Active

This view of Cerberus Fossae, created using stereo data collected by the European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft, shows fault cracks cutting across the Red Planet. New data released from NASA’s InSight lander show this region is still active today. (Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin)

Not far from Mars’ equator, a series of strange fissures rip deep into the Red Planet’s surface. The cracks of Cerberus Fossae run for hundreds of miles, cutting through craters, hills and everything in their path. Relatively young-looking volcanoes nearby, combined with trails of tumbling rocks, have long fueled speculation over whether the region is still active today.

Now, there’s no need to wonder anymore. In a series of papers published Monday in the journals Nature Geoscience and Nature Communications, scientists released the first 10 months of discoveries from NASA’s Mars InSight lander. Its findings, among many others, include a resounding answer to the mystery of Cerberus Fossae — the Red Planet is geologically active and bustles with marsquakes.

The InSight lander was designed to study martian seismology, geophysics, meteorology and magnetism. It carries the first working seismometer and first magnetometer to ever land on the Red Planet’s surface. And while InSight’s lack of wheels might bring fewer news headlines than a rover like Curiosity, astronomers say its findings will ultimately help them better understand the geological processes that have shaped our neighboring world.